House rejects voter choice on school chiefs

djournal-Education_apple_booksBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Mississippi House, which has blocked efforts in recent years to make all school superintendents appointed, defeated a proposal Tuesday to allow people to vote on whether to maintain their elected superintendent.

By the vote, a majority of the House – 66 members – said they did not want to pass any legislation that could result in reducing the number of elected superintendents in the state while 53 members voted in favor of the legislation.

The state currently has a hodgepodge of school district governance, but in general most municipal districts have an appointed school board and superintendent and most county systems have elected superintendents and school boards.

A bill that would make all superintendents appointed unless people in districts with elected superintendents garner enough signatures to have a vote on the issue passed the the Senate on Tuesday. When that bill reaches the House later this session, the chamber’s leadership will have another opportunity to change hearts and minds on the controversial issue.

Legislation also is pending to make all school board members elected.

Mississippi has about 60 elected superintendents out of only 145 in the nation.

Proponents of appointed superintendents say a better candidate can be found for the post if not limited to being forced to elect someone who lives in the district. Plus, an appointment process would take politics out of the equation, proponents argue.

Proponents of elected superintendents say people should have the right to continue to have a vote on the issue.

In debate on the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Forrest Hamilton, R-Olive Branch, gave an impassioned and colorful plea against the proposal that could result in fewer elected superintendents. Referring to a seemingly unrelated charter school debate from last year in the midst of his presentation, he held up a purple pouch that liquor is purchased in filled with coins, and said as a result of education changes there is “a lot of check-writing,” though he quickly said no one was doing anything wrong.

Rep. Brad Mayo, R-Oxford, said football coaches are not elected, but instead schools often go outside of their district to hire a coach. Why shouldn’t the same be done, he said, for the person who runs the district?

Fifteen members of the majority Republican Party voted against the proposal designed to curb the number of elected superintendents.

Also on Tuesday, legislation passed the House to allow the state Board of Education to establish school districts of innovation that do not have to adhere to all state regulations.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com